The intolerance debate is not going to die down anytime soon. The discussion that started months ago with the killing of a human rights activist in Karnataka continues to this day. Dozens of scholars, historians, human rights activists, Bollywood actors and others have spoken openly about it while many others have returned their awards and award money.
MM Kalburgi, an academic of repute who had also served as the vice chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi was killed by Hindu extremists who were opposed to his views on religious tolerance and secularism. Winner of the National Sahitya Akademi award in 2006 for Marga 4, a collection of his research articles, Kalburgi was killed in broad daylight in August.
His killing was just a single manifestation of increasing intolerance in India, the land of ahimsa and tolerance. Aklhaq's killing over beef in Dadri and several other killings in different parts of north India on similarly flimsy grounds proved there was a conscious effort on the part of some people to create fissures in the society.
The way anti-beef campaign was launched across the country, especially in North India that also culminated in the death of Akhlaq, just across Delhi's border with UP was chilling reminder that people can be killed on very flimsy grounds.
It must be noted here that beef consumption is allowed in almost every part of the country. Beef is not cow meat. But the storm created around it made it impossible to differentiate between the two. While Muslims have stopped consuming cow across the country with many Muslim organizations launching campaign to create awareness in this regard, even buffaloes are not being allowed to be butchered in many places in Hindi hinterland.
While poor people are being deprived of a rich source of nutrition, exporters are being encouraged to export beef and earn dollars for the country. In the year 2015 India is expected to become the largest beef exporter in the world. The second biggest beef exporter, Australia is far behind India in terms of the magnitude of exports. Muslim are marginal players when it comes to beef export. Hindu businessmen lead the beef export market.
Beef is the second largest product exported from country after rice and it earns our country as much as Rs 29,000 crore in terms of foreign exchange. The people who have tried to exploit an emotive issue like beef consumption in the guise of cow slaughter in the country are the same people who are now trying to give an impetus to beef export.
I don't give a damn to what some fringe leaders from VHP and Bajrang Dal continue to speak every now and then. But when the VHP and Bajrang Dal rhetoric becomes part of what constitutional authorities start speaking I ask myself to duck and feel alarmed.
Merely weeks ago Assam Governor P.B. Acharya asked Muslims to go to Pakistan and claimed that India is for Hindus. Assam is a large state and more than one third of the state population consists of Muslims.
Acharya while speaking at a public function said, "Indian Muslims are free to go anywhere. They can stay here like those who are staying here. Many of them have gone to Pakistan. If one wants to go Pakistan or Bangladesh, he is free to go…Hindustan is for Hindus. There is nothing wrong with that. Hindus from different countries can stay here. They cannot be outsiders. There is nothing to be feared about that. But how to accommodate them is a big question and we should think about that".
Almost a similar comment was made by BJP chief minister of Haryana. Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister of Haryana said "Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef".
The two are not the only ones in making incendiary and reckless statements. A couple of other ministers too have made similar statements in the last few months.
We know how Pakistan was brought into public discourse by the BJP chief Amit Shah during the Bihar election. Muslims in India have no affinity with Pakistan. It has been proved time and again. To be true, more Muslims may be flying to USA or UK from India than to Pakistan.
Last month Aamir Khan during an interaction in New Delhi brought the issue to the mainstream. "My understanding is that a lot of people from the creative fraternity are protesting because of the growing discomfort they felt or the growing atmosphere of intolerance that they felt around them… growing sense of insecurity and disappointment with that, and as a result that was their way of showing that they are not happy with the situation".
Like many others he too felt alarmed over the eroding harmony from public discourse. "As an individual myself, as a part of the country, as a citizen, we read in newspapers what's happening and certainly I have also been alarmed. I can't deny that I am alarmed...by a number of incidences. For any society it is very important to have a sense of security. I mean there will be acts of violence in world for different reasons. But for us as Indians, as a part of society to have a sense of security… two-three things are very important, I feel. One is sense of justice. If there is a wrong step that anyone takes, then a correct justice is what is required", said the Bollywood superstar.
This is about time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks out clearly against the tone and tenor of many of his party leaders who are maligning him and his government. Prime Minister has been talking of Sabka Sath and Sabka Wikas. Nonetheless he will have to clearly outline how he wants to achieve it. Sabka Vikas, apparently, cannot be achieved by creating fear and sense of insecurity in the minds of a large section of population.
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Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India.